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How to Become a Public Health Nurse

Have you ever considered a career in nursing? There are many options for anyone looking for a nursing job that focuses on health and preventative measures. But unlike nurse practitioners or nurse midwives, public health nurses take an entire population into account.

Public health nurses make their livelihood caring for the well-being of the entire community as a whole. If you want to learn more about how to become a public health nurse, read on for education requirements, a step-by-step guide to entering the nursing industry, and what salary you can expect.

What Is Public Health Nursing?

While a lot of nursing focuses primarily on seeing individual patients, public health nursing goes a step further. Public health nurses, or PHNs, examine community health. They care for a populace through a much wider lens than a typical nurse.

They put their skills as a registered nurse to the test in different public health scenarios. Public health nurses are the unsung heroes of local disease outbreaks, natural disasters, and more.

What Does a Public Health Nurse Do?

Public health nurses work within the community, often reaching out to different community members rather than waiting for them to seek services. This turns what we're familiar with about the American public health system on its head.

Focuses on Community Health

While public health nurses in the United States see individual patients, community health is always in the back of their minds. They dedicate their lives to disease prevention, watching out for issues in at-risk populations, and helping out during natural and manmade disasters.

Examines Data of At-Risk Populations

Public health nurses need to anticipate certain dangers to at-risk populations. People in nursing homes, hospital ICUs, and other vulnerable populations are where public health nurses focus a large portion of their efforts.

Prepare for Disasters

Unfortunately, there is no shortage of disasters, both natural and manmade. Whether it's a raging wildfire, flash flood, or global pandemic, public health nurses prepare for disaster. By doing so, they better prepare themselves and government agencies like FEMA for possible issues with at-risk populations and those in impoverished areas.

The public health nursing section of the American public healthcare system works intimately with government agencies, health clinics, private health companies, and more.

Essential Public Health Nurse Skills

Knowledge of the American Public Health System

In-depth knowledge of what America's healthcare system is all about is perhaps the most crucial aspect of nursing overall. A future nurse needs to know every significant plan, process, and the way the American public health system works.

Learning all of this can seem like a Herculean task as the American system isn't cut and dry, filled with different insurers, medications, policies, and more. However, skilled nurses pride themselves on their comprehensive education and experience within the healthcare system.

A Solid Health Education

A nursing degree is crucial to public health nursing. A public health nurse will work with thousands of different patients, all with their own unique health issues. A nurse needs to be able to recognize multiple health issues and anomalies and treat them accordingly. Earning a good nursing degree and education is extremely vital.

Be Ready to Act at a Moment's Notice

Health emergencies don't happen when we want them to. Inopportune moments in which health crises happen can unfold in a matter of seconds, and this is where a skilled public health nurse shines.

These nurses need to be able to answer the call from government agencies, private healthcare intuitions, and other aspects of the American public health sector in case of disasters, disease outbreaks, and even terrorist attacks.

Public Health Nurse Salaries and Job Outlook

Entry-level salary estimates for public health nurses range from $50,000 to $55,000. This salary range is pretty standard for any entry-level nursing position. Some salary estimates for advanced public health nursing are around $90,000 a year.

The job outlook for a public health nurse is excellent. Unfortunately, there will always be natural disasters, epidemics, and crises with at-risk populations regarding community health. However, this solidifies the concrete need for public health nurses worldwide.

Other factors leading to a greater need for public health nursing are aging populations living longer and needing more care.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Public Health Nurse?

It will take about four to six years for you to become a public health nurse, depending on what degree in nursing you pursue.

You could enroll in an RN-to-BSN or RN-to-MSN program, each of which will lead to different career paths and salaries.

How to Become a Public Health Nurse: A Step by Step Guide

Below is a simple three-step process for how to become a public health nurse.

Step 1: Earn a Degree in Nursing

Degrees in nursing are fantastic options for anyone looking to get into the American public health system. Along with being one of the most consistently popular majors, there is no shortage of different options you can choose from as a nursing student.

Earning your nursing degree is a valuable and perfect stepping stone to becoming a talented nursing professional. While public health nursing requirements aren't as strict as a specialization like a nurse anesthetist, those interested in the field should pursue a bachelor of science.

Luckily, there are quite a few excellent options for an RN-to-BSN degree to advance your knowledge and career prospects.

Step 2: Pass the NCLEX RN

The NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination) is the official exam for earning your public health nursing license. This exam is the baseline nursing exam that determines if you have what it takes to become a public health nurse.

The NCLEX-RN tests you on nearly everything you studied during your nursing programs. It also takes your nursing knowledge a step further by testing your critical thinking skills.

Step 3: Start Your Career in Public Health Nursing

Now is the time to use the skills you have learned in your nursing degree programs. Depending on where you work, you will be working with at-risk populations like those in nursing homes or health clinics specializing in a specific illness.

Should You Become a Public Health Nurse?

If you wish to solve community health crises like disease prevention and any sort of illness in a community, then you should become a public health nurse.

With an education path that isn't too long and a decent salary range, it's the perfect occupation for those who want to join the ranks of nurses who dedicate themselves toward the greater good.


What is the difference between public health nursing and other nurses?
Public health nursing is all about observing and helping overall community health. Whereas many nurses focus on the individual, public health nurses work to solve community health issues, especially with at-risk populations.
Where do public health nurses work?
These nurses work in a number of diverse locations. Many nurses work in health clinics, community centers, rural practices, and schools.
Do public health nurses work alone?
Nurses can either work alone or as part of an organization, like government agencies. For example, these nurses work with organizations like FEMA during hurricane relief and other natural disasters. While they don’t have the autonomy that a nurse practitioner has to prescribe medications and basically act as a doctor in their own right, these nursing professionals are able to travel nearly anywhere in the American public health sector and perform their varied duties.
Is public health nursing a good career?
Yes. Along with a public health nurse salary, these professionals can experience a heightened level of autonomy in their work. They can work independently and observe community health all on their own. This is especially helpful in more impoverished communities and locations where at-risk populations may not readily seek out healthcare.
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